Quantifying seasonality along a latitudinal gradient: from stream temperature to growth of invasive mosquitofish

Most ecosystems undergo substantial variation over the seasons, ranging from changes in abiotic features, such as temperature, light and precipitation, to changes in species abundance and composition. How seasonality varies along latitudinal gradients is not well known in freshwater ecosystems, despite being very important in predicting the effects of climate change and in helping to advance ecological understanding. Stream temperature is often well correlated with air temperature and influences many ecosystem features such as growth and metabolism of most aquatic organisms. We evaluated the degree of seasonality in ten river mouths along a latitudinal gradient for a set of variables, ranging from air and water temperatures, to physical and chemical properties of water and growth of an invasive fish species (eastern mosquitofish, Gambusia holbrooki ). Our results show that although most of the variation in air temperature was explained by latitude and season, this was not the case for water features, including temperature, in lowland Mediterranean streams, which depended less on season and much more on local factors. Similarly, although there was evidence of latitude-dependent seasonality in fish growth, the relationship was nonlinear and weak and the significant latitudinal differences in growth rates observed during winter were compensated later in the year and did not result in overall differences in size and growth. Our results suggest that although latitudinal differences in air temperature cascade through properties of freshwater ecosystems, local factors and complex interactions often override the water temperature variation with latitude and might therefore hinder projections of species distribution models and effects of climate change ​
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